Opinion | One Woman, One Justice System And One Clear Message: Fall In Line
It was the dawn of 11th of September last year, when a mainstream news channel ran its headlines vilifying Rhea Chakraborty, an Indian actress. Calling her everything from a “whore” to “gold digger” to a woman of “questionable character”, cascading a voyeuristic trial by television, while they ripped apart her career, character and the entirety in between. It was just one array of the multitudinous others where her Innocence or guilt became the ground for cut-throat debates. It was almost as if the fundamental ethics of Journalism ceased to exist or plummeted to a level where they were all but recognizable. Her saga is a lesson on how India loves to hate women.
On 14th June’2020,The Indian actor Sushant Singh Rajput (Boyfriend of Rhea) was found dead in his apartment in Mumbai, he evidently committed a suicide but allegedly was “poisoned” and “murdered” through a systematic plot chalked out by Chakraborty, which was largely unsubstantiated —also with a highly unpopular split of moral culpability on a cozy club of Bollywood insiders who didn’t award him with the opportunities he deserved along with the effect it had on their social standing; but not an iota of it when juxtaposed with the 28-year-old Chakraborty, who belonged to a vulnerable, jeopardized career where public perception is the key.
Since then, Chakraborty has found herself cast in a role that she never asked for and one that was forcibly thrust upon her- the role of the perfect villain. She has been criticized and arraigned for everything from not loving Rajput enough to smothering his with so much love that he became estranged from his family; from murdering him to siphoning huge amounts of his money; from propelling him to pander narcotic stimulants to administering him with illegal narcotics with an intent to stupefy him- a charge she was ultimately arrested for, after months of media frenzy.
As she arrived for her trial, Chakraborty was forced to wade through a sea of cameras held by mostly men personnel, violating every aspect of her space and body, as newshawks shoved their cameras and mics in her face.
Her case has gained primetime reporting and dominated the Indian media’s coverage for months. News broadcasting houses and agencies have taken immense pride in invading the personal space of the Actress or even leaking her chats which, infact, have no direct or indirect relation to Rajput’s demise, blurring the lines between fact and conjecture in this case. This Media sensationalism, reporting driven by patriarchal stereotypes and an extremely misogynistic portrayal of the woman is intrinsically sexist, morally depraved and masqueraded, poor journalism to boot.
This sort of media reportage has garnered withering criticism but also an exceeding number of views by the audience, transfixing, and gripping the Indian public and drawing massive liking for these unverified conspiracy theories. This sells in India.
The sight of her 34-year-old boyfriend being brazenly infantilized wherein he isn’t responsible for his own choices is yet another reflection of how deeply is patriarchy entrenched in our social conditioning here in India, where it’s always the woman who is the one to be lambasted, even for a charge of iniquity on the male counterpart.
It demonstrates that everyone has an opinion of what an idealized Indian woman looks, behaves and comports herself like, any departure from that version and you’re chastised. This armchair vilification of Chakraborty may seem like an anomalous event. In reality this could be the fate of any woman whom India decides it no longer likes. In a country where goddesses are paid massive celebrations, at times for 9 days at a stretch, the irony remains that 77 women undergo Sexual assault in a single day in this very country, one cannot help but tremble at what India -emblematic of her own limitations- might yet do to punish women for its own failures and what else exists for them -and by their agony, all of us as well- to endure.
It also brings the fact to the forefront that Indians continue to remain in denial about mental illnesses; they are all agog in seeing obstreperous journalists spew out the hate-filled, venomous invective on their screens publicly than to have a sophisticated discourse on mental health issues, that possibly Rajput might be grappling with.
I am not making the case that Rhea should not face the requisite punishment for her violation of the law. But the alacrity and firmness with which the law was applied to the woman actor is in stark contrast with what happened with some of the other male celebrities in the industry, where they walked out of the accusations largely unharmed with barely catching the country's attention for wrong and without falling prey to media's obsessive character assassination, even though the crime was much more egregious in the latter.
India is sending a loud and clear message to all it's women: Adhere or Fall in Line.
But we must unite and show intolerance in the face of Sexism or simply Perish in Fear.